The modern social justice movement can be described as a loose union of movements that oppose institutionalized injustice in various forms—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and many more. It’s seen as a single movement because all forms of oppression share certain characteristics: most importantly, that they are systems of injustice perpetuated by the entire culture, not merely collections of unrelated incidents. One of these axes of oppression, though not often recognized by the mainstream social justice movement, is adultism—the idea that adults are the “default” human beings, and the less adult-like a person is, the less valid their existence is. And preborn children are the ones who suffer most acutely from this injustice.
All forms of institutionalized oppression are sustained by their culture subconsciously or overtly perpetuating the idea that humanity is meaningfully divided into groups and that one of these groups constitutes the “default” human being with everyone else being “other”. Inextricably entwined with that belief are numerous other subconscious or overt beliefs that comprise a pattern of dehumanization against all human beings who don’t fit the “default”, passed down through stereotypes, traditions, media, and even the building blocks of language. Some of the beliefs that perpetuate adultism include: that dependency is a shameful state, that children are the property of their parents, that one’s immediate physical or mental ability (rather than one’s inherent ability or inherent human nature) is a measure of human value … the list could go on and on. These bigoted beliefs are leveled against children of all ages (and others—for example, people on welfare suffer because of the first belief, and people with disabilities suffer because of the last), and most acutely against preborn children.
I think the pro-life movement as a whole could benefit from what the social justice movement has learned about fighting institutionalized oppression. One way is that seeing abortion for what it is—a violent form of institutionalized oppression—makes it easier to process and understand the fact that it occurs despite how manifestly unconscionable it seems to us. Neither people who have abortions nor abortionists are cartoon villains. Our entire society bears the blame for dehumanizing children and particularly preborn children to the point where it is even conceivable that abortion would be a solution to an unplanned pregnancy.
I could go on about the ways in which it’s helpful for pro-lifers to conceptualize abortion as institutionalized injustice and learn from the social justice movement, but that would take an entire other essay. I hope this essay helps pro-lifers to approach the preborn rights issue in a more holistic and effective way, but I also hope to influence progressives to be more respectful of born and preborn children, and pro-lifers to have a better understanding of other forms of institutionalized oppression.